by Dessa Bayrock
Dessa Bayrock lives in Ottawa with two cats and a variety of succulents, one of which occasionally blooms. She used to unfold paper for a living at Library and Archives Canada, and is currently a PhD student in English where she folds and unfolds even more paper. Her poems have appeared in IDK Magazine, Poetry Is Dead, and Funicular Magazine, among others. She is the proprietor of post ghost press. You can find her, or at least more about her, at dessabayrock.com, or on Twitter at @yodessa.
Constricting Snake Casino
It’s difficult to know where to begin: good things
are happening, and yet my horoscope predicts
pressure, pressure, and not luck, luck. Here’s the secret:
good things are always happening, but that doesn’t mean
the world ever stops constricting like a snake, that poverty
ever stops making short work of it, of you, of everything.
Life looks like a casino from far away, all lights and promise,
but really can be summed up in the wish— fervent, constant—
to win the lottery: the obsession with what difference
could be made, embarrassingly, by a thousand dollars.
Where to put the slow realization that I have to ignore
these insane promises, to build a quiet life, to pretend
poverty is manageable? Where to put this new routine
of swimming on Tuesdays and Thursdays, tired little laps
that go nowhere and yet I have to believe lead somewhere?
Where to put the fact that I smoke weed, now, more weed
than my straight-edge teenage self ever thought we’d see
in real life? Here’s the casino, the lights, the promise,
the main event a wrestling match: me versus the feeling
that I shouldn’t tell anyone about any of it: the poverty,
the swimming, the marijuana I somehow crept into
at age twenty-seven, ridiculous, really, and think
of what it’s doing to your lungs, your past self,
how you never thought you’d be that neighbour,
coughing on the balcony every other night.
It’s difficult to know where to begin, so let’s flip back
to the beginning of all this, or, at least, the beginning
of the realization that the casino was always a myth;
here’s a portrait of myself in the spring, in the summer,
asleep in that narrow bedroom at the top of the stairs
with the red blinds so faded that they keep nothing out.
I have yet to learn to swim; I have yet to roll a joint;
I am dreaming of winning the lottery. This moment
is somehow made golden by memory, even though
I was poor, then, too. And how poor of me, truly,
to hear the neighbour downstairs coughing and think,
Isn’t that sad? To live with your mother and smoke
every night? Will he figure it out? Will he ever grow up?
Here, now, from my seat in the constricting snake casino,
I realize: the cruelest action was to think I’d never change,
that I was somehow better than anyone who did.
And maybe this is the point of all my pitiful little laps
around the pool: to turn myself into a time machine, to swim
my way back and smoke a joint with that kid downstairs.
We’ll never win the lottery, I’ll say, but we can still be happy.
I’ll blow the smoke in my own window, lovingly, tenderly,
like a warning, maybe, or something like forgiveness.